The 'How' of Meditation
Today many people think yoga and meditation are separate. They are, however, part of the same practice, which go together like different sides of the same coin. Yoga is meditation (a moving into stillness) and meditation is yoga (the practice of postures or asanas which are called a ‘seat’). As a yoga teacher, most of my hatha-yoga classes are heavily populated in comparison to the meditation classes. With such good benefits (see: 10 good reasons to meditate), why aren’t more people into meditations?
The greatest answer that I ever heard regarding the lack of interest in meditation was from Swami Veda (a disciple of Swami Rama). He felt what was missing or lacking was not your time or the feeling that it is for you but – your intention.
Intention is everything.
Having an intention is, however, intermingled with having a clear idea of what meditation is. It may be difficult to have an intention if the basic understanding around the subject is hazy. Probably the greatest misunderstanding is that meditation is something that can be taught. As well, it seems kinda – just close your eyes and relax. But most meditation teachers will tell you meditation is like entering a raging fire. Bearing this mind, it may be easier to continue to move in postures than to learn to be still. I personally think what’s missing for most people is a clear understanding of ‘how’ to mediate.
Simply put, meditation is the ability to concentrate and become absorbed with the object of focus. It is an experience and not something that can be taught. What is taught is the ‘how’ to meditate and creating an environment conducive for a meditative state. The ‘what is’ meditation comes from your own practice. So in essence the practice itself is the real teacher. Most people probably forget that much of the information that we have about meditation and yoga is not from intellectual discourses but the experiences of realized saints.
Basic guidelines to get started
1) Choose a meditation practice that resonates with you. There are many different approaches such as focusing on the breath, using a mantra (a Sanskrit chant) and/or concentrating on one of the chakras. In any approach it is recommended that you stick with one rather than mixing.
2) Select a sitting position that is sustainable. A simple cross-legged position is enough. It does not have to be lotus, which was not typically used for long periods of sitting.
3) Keep the head, neck and shoulder erect. The spine is the backbone to the practice. The energy travels upward from the base of the spine and to the top of the head.
4) The chest needs to be open and relaxed. This allows for the breath to flow freely in and out of the body and through both nostrils.
5) Select a hand position (called a mudra) that is not altered. Most students of yoga are familiar with some of the hands positions such as chin mudra or jnana mudra, which help to elicit a deeper focus.
6) Select a time to practice that works well with your schedule and stick to it. Consistency is the most important aspect to progress. This trains the mind to go inside rather than doing the practice whenever it is convenient. It will probably never by convenient.
7) Find a qualified teacher. Rinpoche Chogyam Trungpa said there were 3 things to being on the spiritual path. One of these was having a practice, the second was doing it and the third (and probably the most important of all) was having a ‘live’ teacher. We cannot progress in a vacuum so communication with a teacher is vital.